Dornan-Robinson Contest Shaping Up as Tough, Expensive

Times Staff Writer

In the wake of Tuesday’s primary election, the 38th Congressional District race this fall is shaping up as one of the nation’s most expensive and nasty contests.

Before dawn Wednesday, veteran Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) and Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) were already trading fire.

“Bob Dornan isn’t capable of representing himself, much less almost 600,000 people of the 38th Congressional District,” Robinson declared at his Santa Ana campaign headquarters, where he was celebrating a victory over fellow Democrat, Superior Court Judge David O. Carter.

Robinson, who won 66.6% of the vote to Carter’s 32.6%, added, “Dornan spends more time going to and from Nicaragua than on the congested freeways of the district.”


Meanwhile, at an Irvine victory party Tuesday night, Dornan lambasted “Dickie Robinson” before 3,000 applauding Republicans. He predicted “a tough race because Dick Robinson is going to become a sledgehammer in the hands of every radical and liberal in the nation.”

Meet Ove ‘Cup of Java’

Softening his tone slightly on Wednesday, Dornan said he would like to meet Robinson for “a cup of java” and arrange “a nice educational campaign” filled with debates. Still, he warned, if Robinson adopted the national Democrats’ “attack dog strategy,” to “get low down, dirty and personal . . . it will backfire all over Robinson.”

Both Democrat and Republican officials predicted Wednesday that the battle between the flamboyant and outspoken Dornan, 53, who is seeking a second term, and Robinson, 42, a feisty, six-term assemblyman who gave up his post to run for Congress, will easily cost each side $1 million--and maybe more.


“For us to win it, I would expect a very thorough, very effective, very expensive campaign,” said Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, which plans to target money, computer time and research for Robinson’s race and two other California campaigns.

Preparing for the Race

Robinson conceded that he will not be able to match Dornan’s fund-raising ability but added, “I will get as much as I need.”

Meanwhile, Dornan started preparing for the race well ahead of Robinson. The representative boasts a national following from his frequent television appearances on the “Crossfire” show and has a well-honed mailing list of 20,000 regular contributors. He had raised $217,625 by March 14 for his uncontested primary. By the same date, Robinson, aided by California legislators and labor union political action committees, had raised $160,264.


The election is critical for both parties, with Republicans vowing to hold the seat--which runs through central Orange County to Cerritos--and Democrats hoping to regain it. Dornan, in a major upset, beat Democrat Jerry M. Patterson, a five-term incumbent, in 1984. The loss was embarrassing because Dornan had only recently moved into the conservative, blue-collar district after losing his West Los Angeles congressional district because of a Democratic-sponsored gerrymandering.

With all the interest in the race, however, both Dornan and Robinson turned their attention back to legislative matters by Wednesday afternoon. Campaign aides predicted a lull for the next month, then a hard-fought campaign through the fall.

Back in Washington

Dornan flew back to Washington early in the morning, while Robinson flew back to Sacramento to martial votes against construction of a controversial county jail near Anaheim Stadium.


“I’m committed to getting this damn legislative agenda through, and I’ve got to stop the damn jail!” he said, adding, “Good representation is good politics too.”

But “once that is done, on weekends, I will be concentrating for the last five months (of the campaign) on precinct walking and starting to put together a massive (voter) registration effort,” Robinson promised.

Both sides predicted that the contest would hinge on voter registration as well as issues and money. Leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties have targeted the marginally Democratic district for voter registration drives.

Many Democrats had worried that a contested primary between Carter’s “new leadership” campaign and Robinson’s “old guard” politics would create a deep rift in the local Democratic Party. But Carter and his supporters said they will now unite behind Robinson.


Returning to the Bench

Carter, who called Robinson to concede the election, later said he would be returning to the bench and could not ethically endorse his opponent. But, he said, “if you ask me whom I’m going to vote for, it would be Robinson.”

Also, Christopher Townsend, president of Democratic Associates, a group of young Democrats who endorsed Carter over Robinson, said he would be asking his members to back Robinson.

“It’s going to be harder for a lot of people to get excited on the Associates level,” added Carter aide George Urch, an Associates board member. “But Robinson’s the nominee. He won by two-thirds of the vote, and I’m going to do everything I can to help get the Associates involved.”


Meanwhile, Dornan aide Brian O’Leary Bennett said Robinson is an old-style politician and will be vulnerable to Dornan’s attack.

Old-Time Politician

“I think the voters, when given an up-front, honest pol versus a back room old-time politician . . . there will be a clear distinction. If he (Robinson) spends $5 million, he’s not going to win.”

Orange County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes added that the Robinson-Dornan fight would be tough, especially “when you’re dealing with so seasoned and crafty a politician as Robinson. There is certainly far more baggage which Richard Robinson carries” than Carter would have had, Fuentes said.


Moriarty Issue

The “baggage” Fuentes described includes Robinson’s record in working with former Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. to appoint liberal judges, and Robinson’s alleged link to fireworks manufacturer and convicted political corrupter W. Patrick Moriarty.

Earlier, Robinson was accused by former Moriarty associate Richard Keith of accepting prostitutes paid for by Moriarty, a charge Robinson has denied.

Local Democratic leaders suggested that the Moriarty issue might not prove effective. Last week, for example, Carter sent out a mailer claiming incorrectly that Robinson had been “charged” in the Moriarty affair. Nevertheless, Robinson won by a huge margin, party officials said.


“Now it’s old hat. There’s a certain lessening of the impact,” said Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Bruce Sumner. “The claims have been aired, so it won’t come as a surprise to anyone.”

However, Dornan aide Bennett, who said he has compiled a file on Moriarty’s alleged links to Robinson, said of the Carter mailer, “He (Carter) didn’t do it right.”

Bennett added that he and Dornan are delighted to be facing Robinson.

“I called at midnight and found out” about the vote for Robinson, Bennett said, adding: “I was there, home alone with the two dogs, Champ and Sheba, and I talked to the dogs and told them how happy we were. They each had dog bones and I had ice cream and we had a grand old time.”